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Two Philosophical Principles to Help You Make Decisions

While most people disregard philosophy as unintelligible, there are many philosophical concepts that are worth learning because of their practical applications in everyday life. Two concepts that are especially applicable are negative visualization and the hedonistic treadmill. Although the concepts are entirely unrelated, they may just provide another way to reduce stress and improve your outlook.

For example, say you want to splurge on excessive junk food. If you know of the hedonistic treadmill concept, you will realize that, although indulging in your temporary craving will make you happy in the short term, you will always eventually return to your usual emotional state. In other words, no matter what happens to you, you will always return to your normal base level of happiness. So, satisfying your craving isn’t impactful; first, you’ll feel happy, but then after not even a day you will feel normal again. You’d probably feel awful instead, having eaten a ton of junk food. (Some say this works well as financial advice too: do you need to buy this, or do you just want it, something to provide a brief moment of contentment that will quickly fade away?)

An illustration of the hedonistic treadmill: you will always end up at your baseline level of happiness

Now, obviously, I’m not saying you should never satisfy momentary cravings. Sometimes I do go for that bag of Hot Cheetos – yeah, I know the happiness is short-lived and in a few minutes I’ll be right back to normal, but the key is to just do things in moderation – and knowing the hedonistic treadmill concept can help you make the right choice.

Another concept worth knowing is the method of negative visualization. Originating from the philosophy of Stoicism, this method focuses on generating gratitude for one’s life (and no, you don’t have to be a philosophy enthusiast!).

The technique is simple. As its name suggests, all you do is visualize the worst possible outcome in your daily life. When you imagine that worst-case scenario, it makes you feel happier and more appreciative of the scenario you’re in now.

For me, the worst-case scenario I could think of is my house being destroyed. Somehow catching on fire, or thugs breaking into my house – all my belongings gone (and applying this negative visualizing to loved ones is especially difficult). Maybe our city loses access to clean drinking water. While these odds are highly unrealistic (and I can think way more negatively), there’s still value to contemplating these ideas. When you visualize the worst situation, you become immensely grateful for what you have right now. I can drink clean water, I have electricity, I can see things with vision, I can sleep on a bed… the list of things I’m lucky to have never ends.

A more practical example is this: you’re going to school on only four hours of sleep. This is the perfect scenario to negatively visualize. What if you had only gotten two hours of sleep? What if you hadn’t gone to sleep at all? What if you had to walk to school?

An important reminder: there’s a difference between catastrophizing and contemplating. Do not drown yourself in anxiety – rather, use negative visualization as a tool to help you become more appreciative! After all, you are thinking about highly unrealistic scenarios; do not fool yourself into stressing over things that have such slim odds of ever happening. The goal is to become more cognizant, appreciative, and self-aware – not anxious, nervous, or afraid.

When you negatively visualize, you not only become more grateful, you also become mentally prepared for what can go wrong – not just what you expect to happen.

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